Naiia Lajoie is a Filipina/Syrian/French Canadian triple threat performer originally from Montreal, Canada. Now based in Los Angeles, she is an award-winning actor, member of SAG-AFTRA and ACTRA, and also works as a stuntwoman specializing in underwater stunts. You can find her work across multiple streaming services: Netflix's "Drug Lords",Silencer; Amazon Prime Video's "My Crazy Ex",The Gingerweed Man; Vudu's "Blue Mountain State''; and Flixwest'sWidow. Naiia is also an award-winning columnist. She writes a column called "Glass Half-Fil" for the Filipino-centric Manila Up! Magazine, as well as a column titled "My So-Cal'd Life" for its lifestyle sister magazine EXQUISITE International. She is the Magazine Editor for both publications and is a member of the LA Press Club. Read on to learn more about Naiia Lajoie and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Naiia Lajoie (pronouncedna-HEE-yuh la-JWAH)
Heritage: Half Filipina, quarter Syrian and quarter French Canadian
Hometown: Montreal, QC, Canada
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
Oh man, at any given point I feel as though I have a hold on (or rather, they have a hold on me!) several different projects at once. Film-wise, a movie I'm the lead in was just released,The Gingerweed Man. It's a 2-parter; Part 1 became available on streaming services like Amazon Prime Video on March 26th, and Part 2 on April 2nd. It's an action-adventure comedy that incorporates puppetry and practical effects. The production company, Full Moon Features, has already reached out about potential sequels. I'm also involved in a TV series currently being shopped around called "Escape Velocity". It's a sci-fi virtual production that incorporates real-time rendering. We filmed the sizzle trailer last year following Covid-19 guidelines. Otherwise, I'm also a Magazine Editor and Columnist for 2 publications,Manila Up! Magazine andEXQUISITE International Magazine. I was just nominated in 2 categories for the LA Press Club's National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
Truthfully I fall in love with every project I work on, but more recently I was Ana de Armas' stunt double in a La Mer commercial that we filmed in late 2020. I was initially hired to do the underwater shots and pool dives, but ended up performing the wire work and rehearsing the stunt falls as well. Going back a few years, I'm quite fond of a western film I was cast as the lead in, calledWidow. We filmed in Arizona, and in it you see me shooting guns and riding horses. That performance actually garnered me a Best Actress award at The Wild Bunch Film Festival in 2019. The movie is available to stream on Flixwest (formerly Great American Westerns).
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Make sure you're doing it for the right reasons; don't do it because you think it's glamorous, don't do it because you think it's easy money, don't do it because you want to be famous, and especially don't do it because you're forced to. The arts are so necessary for society to function and yet they're an aspect that is constantly undervalued, underappreciated, and underfunded. So instead, do it because you're gifted and don't mind working hard for your craft. Do it because you can't imagine doing anything else for a living. Do it because you love storytelling. And most importantly, do it because you have a support system around you that is understanding and encouraging.
How did you get your start?
After graduating university, I moved to Montreal and started "gigging". The majority of my gigs came from online classifieds, like Craigslist (it was a different time). I came across a casting that was looking for cheerleaders and applied, since I was captain of my high school cheerleading squad for 2 years. Once I got to the audition I realized that the production was way bigger than I had anticipated; at the time it was Montreal's most prestigious casting office, and the role was for a TV show airing on Spike TV. Girls were cycling in and out of the room quickly, and when it came to me, I figured I'd get sent home just as fast. The Casting Director kept me, had me read for another role, and while I didn't book either of those roles, months later he direct-booked me for my first ever Guest Star on that show, “Blue Mountain State”.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
My favorite moment is taking that huge leap in leaving the comfort of Montreal and moving to Los Angeles. I was feeling stagnant and wanted to be in a bigger market, maybe Vancouver. But a bad breakup and an opportunity to work a gig in San Diego whisked me away to California for a week, and I just fell in love. With the state, with the pace, with the opportunity. People assume that there's a lot of competition in LA -- truth be told, there is so much work to be had and plenty to go around. When I moved my Dad sent me an email, in it he closed with "...give it your best shot and play yourself; don’t try to be someone you’re not." I framed that email and had it hanging in my first apartment.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
As an immigrant, the toughest part of not only my career, but securing my place here in the US, has been immigration. I came on a 6-month vocational student visa, found representation who sponsored me for a 3-year "artist's visa", applied for an "artist's Green Card" during the previous administration... In a nutshell, there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of heartache, a lot of jumping through hoops and paying exorbitant amounts of money just to remain in my new home. But I never gave up. I'm now proud to say that I'll be getting my dual citizenship this year.
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I'll give you three: 1) I was struck by lightning at age 12, 2) I attended high school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and 3) I can hold my breath for 3 minutes and 23 seconds (more on that later...).
Do you have any organizations or non profits you work with you’d like to highlight?
I donate blood as often as I can through Cedars-Sinai. I'm also a "pawlunteer" for a Venice-based cat rescue called Beach City Kitties. Ocean Conservation and Environmental Awareness is also very important to me, so I volunteer with organizations like the Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay, and Daana Blue.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
My Mum likes to tell this story; while pregnant with me, she would rub her belly and talk to her baby bump, saying, "one day you're going to be just like Brooke Shields". I'd like to think that through maternal manifesting, I was always destined to be in the arts.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
I've been doing school plays since elementary school, same goes for choir. If there was a stage somewhere, I'd take it. If there was a karaoke mic, I'd grab it. As a child with an overactive imagination, a love of open spaces for playing, and just stories; reading stories, hearing stories, telling stories -- I truly cannot imagine a world wherein I'm not a storyteller. So I think the answer to the question is "always."
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between shows to pay the bills?
I STILL have interesting odd jobs to pay the bills! In addition to storytelling I also really love working with children. Years ago I attended a casting held by a "Party Princess" company; they were looking to hire princess characters for different events and venues. I took to it rather well and quickly - you'd be surprised how much parents are willing to spend on their kid's birthday parties, or brands on their product launches! While acting is my focal point, nowadays if a good friend reaches-out looking for a position to be filled, if I happen to have the day off I'll take it. Working with children is literally the best improv training an actor will ever have.
Do you have any other “special skills?”
Working as a children's entertainer segued into performing underwater as a mermaid; full 20lb silicone tail and all. This meant that I had to become a certified Lifeguard, SCUBA Diver, and Freediver (hence the long breath hold). Through that skill set, I was able to connect with the Society of Camera Operators, performing on-camera for their HydroFlex workshop, taught by famed underwater cinematographer, Pete Romano.
Do you have any side projects you’d like to highlight?
While I'm not able to discuss the projects I've auditioned for, one exciting prospect is a hosting job planned for later this year. I worked as a traveling automotive host for 5 years, taking me all over the country, to Canada, and even Japan. While lucrative, I left that job due to the pandemic, anticipating that large-scale in-person events would not be returning until 2022, and even then in a much smaller capacity. It was a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to focus solely on acting. I'm still thankful for those 5 years because through it not only have I become media trained, I met like-minded artists who I now call friends, like fellow Fil-Am Cheryl Dao. Through her and her husband's production company, Marshun Entertainment, we're playing with the idea of launching a Filipino Festival. During a time where anti-AAPI rhetoric and violence against Asian Americans is so prevalent, showcasing our Pacific Islander roots is imperative. I'd be honored to host during that celebration.
If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the business?
My Filipina mother is incredibly artistic; she is a seamstress/designer and aesthetician. My father is a retired computer engineer; he wrote software for telecommunications. I fall somewhere in between them; I'm a dreamer AND a doer. Both of my parents are so incredibly hardworking. From a young age they instilled in me a relentless work ethic, which is what I think has gotten me so far and kept me in the entertainment industry. What's more, they're both such fun-loving people -- when we're together we're like a family of goofballs, having drinks while reminiscing, laughing to the point of crying. Everything I do, I do for them. I'm not trying to build an empire -- it reminds me of something Jo Koy said in his podcast The Koy Pond: "Protect your legacy." I'm furthering my family's legacy.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to be patient. "Just you wait Naiia. I know people make fun of your mom's accent, and the foreign food you eat, and the way she styled your hair. I know boys tease you for your bushy eyebrows, and that they don't consider you 'hot'. I know the teacher describes you as 'exotic looking', which causes your classmates to make fun of you. But guess what? Your time will come. You want to be a princess? You'll be a Disney Princess. You likeThe Little Mermaid? You'll be a mermaid. You like the Backstreet Boys? You'll meet Nick Carter on-set and have to jump into his arms for a shot (true story). Also, invest in Amazon."
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
Adaptability is key. Acting requires taking on the physicality and persona of another being, that entails the good, the bad, and the ugly. You can't resist it, you have to own it. Part of being able to make that shift is to be 100% confident and comfortable with yourself. Just as easily as you embody someone else, you also have to quickly adapt back to who you are as a person. Otherwise pieces of you will get lost in the mix, and you run the risk of losing yourself.
Where did you study?
I went to Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec. I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts, Drama Honors and Minor in Film Studies.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I can't answer that yet, because I'm still living it. If I acknowledge a "greatest accomplishment" now then that's like saying I've peaked. My life has been a constant upward journey, and while the destination may shift at times, it's still upward.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I do have a "to-do" list as an actor and in life; some are silly staples I had set in my mind long ago, while others are milestones I know I'll reach. In no particular order: Voice a cartoon character. Do the VO and mocap for a video game character. Have my likeness on a Magic: The Gathering card. Get a tattoo from Mister Cartoon. Be nominated for an acting award in a prestigious award show. Write a children's book. Write an erotic novel under a pen name. Hold triple citizenship. Become a mother.
What do you love most about what you do?
I've mentioned a couple of times now that I love telling stories. Stories provide history, education, and entertainment. It moves me so profoundly when someone watches one of my more dramatic roles and tells me, "I was crying." I did that -- I moved someone. That is such a powerful platform to stand on, and to quote Uncle Ben here, "with great power there must also come great responsibility." I love learning, and I'm learning to navigate being a performer for my own livelihood while also being an inspiration to others. The impact I could potentially have far exceeds my bank account.
Do you have any self care practices you do to stay focused and sane?
While I wish I could say that I meditate daily, as was my New Year's Resolution, my Mindfulness app has gone seldomly used. I do exercise every day which does provide a sense of normalcy, even with a hectic schedule and regardless of where I am in the world. I also have my husband to largely thank for keeping me sane. He lifts me up and keeps me grounded. Other than that, I try to start my day by audibly saying "good morning" -- even if there's no one around -- and focus on 3 things I'm grateful for at that moment. These affirmations make me realize that all in all, I'm in a good place.
How do you prepare for a role you consider difficult personally, whether it hits too close to home or goes greatly against your personal beliefs?
I am a vigorous researcher. During the pandemic I studied extensively with the Howard Fine Acting School, and Howard's online teachings have instilled in me a methodology that has already yielded several bookings. For roles that I consider difficult, I first break down why I find them difficult. As Howard Fine would say, it's all about the human condition. What similarities do I have with this character? And if we're vastly different, then what in my own life would I be passionate about to make me react this way? What would drive me to this behavior?
As a storyteller, how do you pick the stories you want to work on and what goes into putting a story together, whether on stage, page, or film?
The stories I'm drawn to are the ones that have important key messaging I feel the world could benefit from hearing, and/or are the ones that pose a personal challenge for me -- whether mentally or physically. In terms of what goes into putting a story together, it's all about surrendering yourself fully to the process, the script, and the character. But also remembering to have fun while doing it. If you as a performer are not enjoying yourself, then the audience will not enjoy watching you live out the experience. Do what you love, and love what you do.
What inspires you?
Above all else, my family. My Mum came from a poor, rural village in the Philippines, and was made fun of for being a "mountain girl". As the middle child out of 9, she moved to the city to earn for her family, moved to the capital to pursue better work opportunities, and in doing so eventually met my Dad. She then married a foreigner, moved to Canada, raised a family -- all with English as her third language. Same goes for my Dad, his mind is so analytical and yet he's the biggest man-child I know. He taught me that while you can take work seriously, don't take yourself so seriously. For the most part, life can be easy; it's usually people that make it hard.
To find out more about Naiia, please visit her at:
Instagram: www.instagram.com/naiialajoie &www.instagram.com/naiyathenaiad
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